How to Defeat Populist Authoritarians and What to Do Next?

Speaker Headshot
Date & Time Nov 28 2023 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location Robertson Hall
002 (Bowl 2)
Maciej Kisilowski
Grigore Pop-Eleches (Moderator)
Audience Open to the Public

The talk will discuss the recent trend-defying Polish elections and their implications for the future of democracy in Poland and beyond, and will be followed by a Q&A session moderated by Prof. Grigore Pop-Eleches.

"In a deeply polarized country, divided along regional and urban-rural dimensions, a diverse coalition from left to center-right prevails over far-right populist authoritarian movement. But the history does not end, and the antidemocratic forces may return."

This scenario, known to Americans since President Biden's 2020 victory over Donald J. Trump, has recently repeated itself in Poland – a country ruled by Trump-style populist Law and Justice party since 2015. On October 15, a loose democratic alliance led by former European Council Chair Donald Tusk achieved an unexpected victory in a free but deeply unfair ballot heavily skewed in favor of the ruling party. 

Given the sadly small population of "authoritarian survivors" – societies who managed to oust governing right-wing populists successfully – a careful comparative review of these relative success stories is pertinent for democrats everywhere. With that goal in mind, we will offer a brief outline of the authoritarian revolution initiated by PiS in 2015 and the conditions of the October 15 ballot. We will then turn to the main factors that made the opposition's unlikely victory possible. Finally, we will discuss the perilous future of reinstating a democratic social contract in a polarized society with clear early signs of relentless opposition by the departing regime and its allies, who control most state institutions. 


About the guest: 

Maciej Kisilowski is Associate Professor of Law and Strategy at Central European University (CEU) in Vienna (previously in Budapest) and SPIA MPA'08. He publishes in law, management strategy, and political science, with his research focused on applying the principles of innovation strategy to various nonmarket fields, including public law and regulation. He is a frequent commentator on issues of the political economy of East-Central Europe, contributing (among others) to Los Angeles Times, Project Syndicate, Foreign Policy, The Wall Street Journal, Politico, Haaretz, and Der Standard. In Poland, Prof. Kisilowski is co-founder of The Social Contract Incubator – a nonpartisan group of scholars and practitioners who have developed a comprehensive plan for the country's democratic constitutional reform. The book outlining the proposal – titled Umówmy się na Polskę [Let's Agree on Poland], which Prof. Kisilowski co-edited – became a nonfiction bestseller after its publication in May 2023. Apart from his Princeton degree, prof. Kisilowski holds a doctorate in law from Yale Law School and M.B.A. with distinction from INSEAD.